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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Windows 8 Proves Web Apps Are the Future of Computing

Microsoft wants developers to code in the language of the Web—just like Google. Can anything resist their combined might?

  • June 3, 2011

The next version of the Windows OS will run on everything from phones and tablets to desktop PCs, and it will feature, front and center, apps built in HTML5, CSS, and Javascript.

Which are precisely the technologies used to build apps that run in the Web browser.

This means that Google, with its Chrome OS and Chromebook laptops, and Microsoft are now both concentrating on making it easy for Web developers to create for their platforms. Competition with Apple makes for strange bedfellows, indeed.

Based on everything that Microsoft has said so far, it does not appear that the new class of apps that will run on Windows 8 will be true Web apps, as is the case with Google’s Chromebook. And the unique interface Microsoft recenly showed off means that porting them directly to the Web would be unrealistic.

But apps built on the same foundation as web apps mean that Redmond may in the future rely increasingly on the giant pool of Web and app developers who are now coding up a storm for Android and iOS. (This has many loyal Microsoft developers freaking out.)

And if developers who work with HTML5, Javascript and CSS are about to have yet another platform for which they can easily develop applications, they will have more incentive than ever to write code that could move fluidly between the “desktop” and the cloud.

Adios, .NET, Silverlight and apps built in C# – those tiles were built with Web technology

Maybe it’s too much to ask for a code-once deploy-everywhere future. But a code-once, do some minor tweaking to port to every platform future? If Google and Microsoft can get their payment systems and app stores in order, it’s hard to see how any other app platform could compete with their combined might. Economics alone could drive coders into an inherently cloud-centric development environment built on open standards.

Does this mean the death of native apps? No—but it does mean the rise of an entirely new species, an adaptable and hardy breed that can live anywhere, and is at home in the OS as it is in the browser.

As Microsoft developer Andres Aguiar put it:

If Microsoft is successful, it would end up killing native development for Android and iOS, because it could force Apple and Google to come up with similar solutions. They won’t own their developer platform as they used to, but at least nobody will own it.

To which I’d add, Google pioneered this “solution,” in the form of a Web app store. Apple, meanwhile, won’t budge until it’s forced to.

Bonus: here’s the newest video of the Windows 8 interface in action.

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